A Travellerspoint blog

Mamanuca's in Fiji

Partying, relaxing and kava-drinking

sunny 34 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

One of the first things you notice with the people in Fiji is the sheer size of your average Fijian. The Indo-Fijians (Indian immigrants) are pretty normal, but the native Fijians are just huge. Even the women are really big. You notice it when shake big, tough hands, when you see the size of their footwear while standing in a queue, and simply the height of men as you walk down a crowded street. Fijians are big people. They're happy too, and generally very easy-going. I'm always getting a "Bula!" (Hello) from across the street. People often ask where you're from.
"South Africa," I say.
"Ah.....! Ah! The world cup!!"
"Yep, we won."
"But Fiji almost beat you!" they exclaim.
"Ya I know, best game of the tournament, that quarter-final."
Fiji did almost beat the Springboks in that game, and if they had, we wouldn't have won the World Cup. Most Fijians will bring up rugby when I tell them where I'm from, and its obvious that that game did a lot for South African rugby here. I've seen more Fijians wearing green and gold replica jerseys than any other nationality, including New Zealand, who currently have a number of star players from Fiji. Rugby is big here, and on one day, I joined some guys for a game of touch rugby on a battered field near the beach. The guys played an immensely fast-paced, exciting game, and I could hardly keep up. My fitness was lacking too, I think. But eventually I stopped playing because of the field - there were gaping holes all over - twice I almost sprained my ankle. I asked one of the guys later why they don't put sand in the holes, to prevent injuries.
"We all know where the holes are - we just run around them. Its fine like that."
"So no one gets injured? Haven't you been injured by one of the holes before?" I asked.
"Oh yes, two months ago. I couldn't walk and didn't sleep that night, but its fine now."
Hmmm. Island life - perhaps it makes you idle.

Island - hopping and kava -drinking in paradise

A mate of mine in London recommended that as soon as you get to Fiji you should book a trip out to the Yasawa's and Mamanuca's island groups. Ferries go every day, dropping people off at their preferred island and then they hop on again for a few more days at another island.
So I took the Yasawa's Flyer ferry, getting off at the second stop - Bounty Island. Its quiet and chilled there, and the chief (I think) greets you wearing a floral shirt and a guitar in hand as you jump onto the beach from the transfer boat. I spent loads of time reading, and doing very little other than kayak and snorkel. One night, the chief decided it was time for some kava. Kava is the drink of the south Pacific, its available on most island groups from the Solomon's to Tonga. Its ground up from roots and mixed with water inside a large kava bowl, and looks and tastes like very dirty dishwater! The correct way to drink it is to clap your hands before receiving the kava cup, to thank your host after downing it ("Vinaka!"), and to clap three times afterwards again - to show appreciation. It has a fierce reputation. Although, in Fiji, it is a mild drink. It does not contain alcohol, but instead is a form of hallucinogenic. Although I had quite a few cups on several occasions, I never really felt much of an effect. What you DO feel is a dullness of your senses and a dead mouth and tongue - sort of like the feeling you may get after you've been to the dentist and had a local anesthetic injection somewhere in your mouth. Its not like beer, but it does leave you very relaxed and not too keen to do anything really. Perfect!

Two days of relaxation and I headed to Beachcomber Island, the so-called 'party island.' What you can do here is tan, tan some more, tan again, and then party from happy hour each night. Standard routine. It simply amazed me how much time some of the girls spent in the sun - perhaps 6 hours, through midday, and often until the sun goes down. There were a lot of pink people there. The sun in Fiji is as fierce as I've ever experienced.
Since I don't tan very well, I started reading again during the day (shady spots only), and hit the bar in the evening. I walked around the island in five minutes - its tiny. There is only one dorm, and it takes 130 people, boys on one side, girls on the other. If you had cash to spare, you could stay in a bure, complete with hammocks and a patio looking onto your own little section of the beach. I splashed out and went jet-skiing, since I hadn't done it before. Over-rated, I reckon. I got chatting to the manager of the island, Vince - a local Fijian of British descent, and it was fascinating hearing his stories of the filming of the Tom Hanks' film Castaway. He recommended the island that they ultimately filmed on, met Steven Spielberg during filming, and even baby-sat Tom's kids.
After blowing the budget on over-priced beers for 2 days, I decided it was time to head to Mana Island - which I had heard so much about from my Irish mate Gary in New Zealand.

Mana is the perfect destination for "chillaxing", one of the Irish girls, Siobhan (pro. Chevon) told me. I stayed at Mana Lagoon Backpackers, and what a classic backpacker place. The crowd was awesome, the food filling, the drinks cold, the beach straight out of a postcard, and the hill views at sunset - unbeatable. On one of the days, a big crowd of us - from Maryland, Holland, UK, Ireland, Sweden, France, Germany and all sorts of other places - headed up and witnessed the most amazing sunset. It was a champagne moment - but where do you get champagne in a place like this?! The sun set not far away from the cliffs of Hanks' movie, and it was a perfect setting. (In the movie they make out as though there are no islands in view of castaway island, but there are in fact half a dozen all around it).

The MV Sophie, aka Noah's Arc

After lazing about about for days, and literally missing the boat a couple of times (its that chilled out) I decided it was time to focus on diving. So I headed back to Nadi, amidst sad farewells and many facebook promises, and booked a trip on the MV Sophie from the capital Suva to Savusavu, on the other big island, Vanua Levu. Little did I know that the trip would be classified as my worst after 8 months of travel. Luckily, I shared a cabin with Brits Holly and Rachel. We took first class - basically you get a cabin. Anything less, and its the big seated area with screaming kids, indoor picnics, and snoring old men everywhere. We got into our cabin, and there were cockroaches crawling out of the beds. We moved cabins. Still cockroaches in the beds. We then saw that there were rust holes linking all the cabins, and that one way or another we would have a couple of friendly little cockroaches sleeping with us tonight. Then we departed, and the boat started to roll about in the rough seas. A few people spewed on the deck outside the cabins. I needed the toilet later, and came across the most decrepit, unhealthy, uncared for, men's bathroom I have ever seen. The toilets seats could not even open because the doors blocked them (difficult to explain). Sleep was difficult - all the lolling about gave Rachel and Holly sleepless nights.

In the morning I bade them farewell - I would continue with the ferry to Taveuni, and the Brits got off at Savusavu. Little did I know that downstairs in the cargo hold, there was a problem. The construction loader had fallen off its transport truck and was preventing all the other trucks from getting off. They literally had to squeeze through a small gap to get out, creating nice little dents on each truck.
I asked one of the cargo guys: "How long til we go?"
"One hour perhaps," came the reply.

One hour later and no progress. I picked up my bag, bade the MV Sophie a tearful goodbye, and headed into town. I met the Brits again, and 2 hours later during breakfast, the MV Sophie departed. Incredible ship that.
While in Savusavu we headed out to the town of Lembasa, home of Lonely Planet's highly-rated Monolithic Gods site. After a 3 hour bus journey (average of 10km/h) we got to the site. I must admit, its times like these you want to wring Lonely Planet's neck. Why on earth has this place received so much coverage in their guide book???!! It was quite literally a long rock sticking out of the ground, and a few other rocks showing evidence of ancient cannibalism, and what must have been a stone village once, but resembled someone's nicely laid out rock garden. Pathetic. Anyway, the villagers were friendly enough. We then had a 3 hour bus journey to look forward to again...
After a couple of days I headed over to Taveuni, where my dive courses began.

I'll try update with some pics soon - don't hold your breathe though, this internet cafe can't even load up facebook.

Posted by Shlugger 15:50 Archived in Fiji Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The Garden Island of Fiji

Dive slave and strange happenings in Fiji

sunny 34 °C
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So I've been on the road for 9 months now. It seems like yesterday when I left a cold, wet London and cousin Morgi called at Heathrow airport to wish me luck and to be wary of all the lady-boys. Luckily, I've had my wits about me the whole time. So I haven't been to work, done anything in the office, looked at a spreadsheet, or even spent hours trying to look busy since February. That is, until 5 weeks ago. I thought doing a dive course or two would be easy work. Do a few dives, practice some rescue techniques, guide a group of divers, map a site. Hmmm, may sound easy, but the four fat novels I brought with me have hardly been touched, meaning I haven't had all that much beach time.
The rescue course started on the island of Taveuni, in the north eastern segment of Fiji. This part of the world is famously referred to as the "soft coral capital of the world." And yes, under the water Rainbow Reef is very beautiful. Its just as pretty above, Taveuni itself having earned the nickname "The Garden Island."

I started my rescue course at a resort called Paradise. Their dive centre, Pro-dive, offered a good price, and great facilities. Their house reef (ie. the reef they do all training on - its literally a step off the boat jetti) is excellent as well, teeming with life. It was here that I met two Scots in the form of Jerry and Buzzy ("Yes, that is my real name!"). Naturally, I was not going to stay at the resort's $F600 a night Bure's (Fijian cottages), and instead stayed at a self-catering lodge 5km's south at Vuna village. Jerry and Buzzy were busy completing their PADI Divemaster qualifications at the resort, and had gotten to Vuna only a few days before me. So for the next couple of
weeks we walked the long road there and back each day, occasionally hitching a lift, and doing our daily training in the pool or on dives. Vuna village is surrounded by an absolutely enormous lagoon, that extends out to sea, with a lighthouse on the far side to warn ships. Its overfished, but still offers great snorkeling. Staying here for two weeks was ideal. In the evenings, Jerry, Buzzy and myself would sit in the lagoon waters, having a sundowner (Fiji Bitter is a great beer) after our long, sweaty, fly-infested walk back, or chill on the porch, while the sun was setting directly ahead of us. A calm quietness would always descend on our group as the sun disappeared, below the sea. The sunsets were spectacular.

At one time during our courses, we got a few days off, and snorkeled the reef. I don't think I have ever felt as vulnerable or scared as when Jerry started grabbing at my feet under the water. It so happened that only a few weeks before an enormous tiger shark (7m according to the dive guide, Wilson; but I don't think they grow that big, or at least that's what the fish books say...) had cruised passed a dive group in the lagoon area. So here I was with Jerry and Buzzy splashing about, the water visibility had dropped to about 15 meters, and we were so deep I could no longer see the sandy bottom. Jerry, of course, thought it was hilarious every time he attacked me or made the universal shark sighting sign at me (hand held vertically above your head, like a fin), but I reckon my heartbeat was like a bongo drum for kilometers around. I urged us to head back, the last remnants of control fading from my croaking voice. Fiji Bitter had never tasted so good that evening.

Jerry and Buzzy contributed to my rescue course by being victims, although personally I think Jerry was hoping I'd have to do CPR on him. Thankfully, my instructor Bruce, was against this suggestion. Upon completing my Rescue course, I decided that I would continue with my Divemaster course as well, but instead I would do it elsewhere, closer to the reefs. Jerry and Buzzy were keen too, as the dive package at Dolphin Bay Divers, across the strait, was better. I wanted to go because Dolphin Bay was offering 2 dives per day as part of the course, while Pro-dive offered none. Also, there was a clear difference between the way that we were treated by staff and the way that guests were treated. This irked me, as I was already going to spend over $F2000 there. All the same, thats only 2 nights at the resort. A backpacker environment was needed...

Dolphin Bay Divers (www.dolphinbaydivers.com) is a retreat on the far eastern coast of Vanua Levu, right across the straight from Taveuni, but closer to all the dive sites. Its run by Viola and Roland - a German/Swiss couple who have stayed in the area for the last 13 years. Dolphin Bay is in its own time zone - staff recommend that you change your clock when you arrive! Of course, its not official, but it does help with daylight savings. As a result, I've been getting up at 5am every morning since leaving. Unlike Taveuni, where it rains virtually everyday, there was a severe drought in progress here, resulting in Roland having to send staff back daily to Taveuni, only 10km's away, to collect water in large canteens. Showers were short affairs at Dolphin Bay, the rainy season was late. It was a massive contrast to Taveuni, where on one day, I counted heavy rainfalls at least 30 times during the course of the day.

The course was great, mostly because I got to dive the reef so much, and got to avoid much of the theory. I'm saving that for London (why study in Fiji, and dive in the channel?). I did have to do 2 exams though, and PADI did a great job of writing a mind-numbingly boring manual. Luckily I got through this in one week, but it was tough doing 2 early dives each day and then studying in the afternoons in the dining area, where the warm sea is only 20 meters away. The mornings were mostly made up of carrying tanks, putting together people's dive gear, checking that everything was on the boat, etc. Dive slave stuff - its all part of the experience. A funny/not-so-funny incident happened while I was there, read this link for details: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=104723

The reefs out here seem to be fighting for space. The fish are plentiful, except where there is a village - the fisherman will take anything out of the sea, big or small. Spear-fishing is big here too. Everywhere you go, there is a reef. Every island is rimmed by a reef, and then a steep drop-off into the deep blue waters beyond. You see it when you drive along the coast, take a boat, and from the air. During my flight back to Nadi (touristy, international airport town) this morning I saw countless atolls out to sea, many of them with beautiful turquoise lagoons, and coral spreading around the lagoon, barely a few meters above the waterline. I jumped from one side of the plane to the other, trying to get the best pic through grubby windows. There were only two passengers on the plane. Perhaps the political stances of Australia, New Zealand and the US are starting to take effect. None of those countries recognise the current government - afterall, its in power as a result of a coup, held back in 2006, and the fourth one in Fiji in only 2 decades. The military controls the country now, along with the backing of the Great Council of Chiefs (apparently).

At the same time, you keep hearing about the ridiculous resorts that are being built here in Fiji. The best one I've heard yet is Poseidon (http://www.poseidonresorts.com/poseidon_main.html). Its going to be built underwater with transparent - walled rooms that look out to the fish. Hmm, good luck. Another classic is the resort owned by the Red Bull katrillionaire, Dietrich Mateschitz, just north of Taveuni. Its so exclusive that it will cost between $F10,000 and $F15,000 per bure, per night, and Arnie and John Travolta are meant to be flying in to do the opening ceremony. At least, thats what the islanders are saying on Taveuni.
So I guess tourists are still coming. Well, those with loads of cash at least.

I've also been to the Mamanuca's and a few other spots. That'll come in the next update, in a couple of days, and hopefully with some pics too ;)

Posted by Shlugger 20:34 Archived in Fiji Comments (0)

The land of the Long White Cloud

In Aotearoa - God's Country

semi-overcast 17 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

New Zealand (Aotearoa) is magnificently beautiful. I've been traveling with a company called the Magic bus - a sort of backpacker tour company. Along the way, both in the north and south islands, I have seen so many amazing viewpoints that I feel too guilty to try and get some sleep. Staring out the window is just so worth it ;)
New Zealander's are generally a pretty good, easy-going, down-to-earth bunch. Except during Tri-nations rugby! I had to watch the Wallabies go down on Saturday and see the All Blacks clinch the Tr-Nations trophy for the 4th consecutive year. They're killing the tournament... but Kiwi's don't care!

My visit started in Auckland. I was pretty suprised at the size of the city - its much smaller than I expected. In fact, that pretty much sums up NZ - large parts of the country almost feel deserted - there is often not a soul around, especially in the south island. Auckland's Sky Tower is impressive - the views of the Auckland area are something else. The city centre is pretty small - I saw most of it in under an hour. My backpacker's room was eventually ok; I decided to move to my own room after coming across two fly-infested dorms (some funky, ripe old food in some bags I think). I met up with old East London mate Brendon Sparg on the waterfront for some drinks. It was great catching up, and Brendon introduced me to a few great Kiwi brews.

Without going into detailed daily accounts, I'll give you some of my highlights from the last three weeks in New Zealand:

Rotorua and the Maori cultural show:
So a bus picks you up for a cultural show, and before you know it, some massive Maori guys are just about decapitating our selected 'chief' and sticking their tongues out at us, doing the whole eyeball thing, and generally making every tourist squirm, as we are challenged to enter their 'village.' Then you go into the village, have a fat chat with these guys who have just threatened us with our lives, and eat 'hangi' - a kind of stew cooked under the ground with hot rocks/coal. A good experience, but unavoidably touristy.
Rotorua is also something of a hot spring capital, with various areas throughout the town closed off to public access because of boiling mud and geysers. There was a field of geysers just outside our YHA backpackers. As it turned out, the YHA is run by the grumpiest staff in New Zealand, and upon enquiring as to why the bar and restaurant closed at 7pm ("If there's no one in the bar, we close!"), they directed Irishman Gary and myself to another eatery. We didn't know as we set out in the dark, but the owner had directed us straight through the geyser field. We barely escaped with our lives. She probably sends all complainants there. That's were all the missing backpackers in New Zealand can be found, I reckon...
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The Magic Bus:
The Magic Bus (www.magicbus.co.nz) is full of characters. The most interesting are the bus drivers, mostly because they are partly crazy. Since they are tour guides, they fill us in with interesting facts, such as the story of the possums: apparently there are either 19 million, 25 million, or 80 million possums in New Zealand, they are destroying the forests and they came from Australia. I didn't know this. Other fascinating facts are that you cannot sue in New Zealand, a Japanese guy once fell into 200 degree boiling mud and died, NZ is the most dangerous country in the world, and other facts. Sarcasm aside, the bus guides are pretty good blokes and apart from the occasional questionable fact, give you some pretty interesting stories about New Zealand, which keeps the trip pretty well entertained. They also stop off at great lookouts for photo opportunities, which lets you see so many great spots as you journey through the countryside. There are interesting passengers on the bus - I've met loads of Irish, English and Australian travellers.
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Tramping in New Zealand
NZ is great for terkking, or tramping, as they say here. So far I have done walks through Tongariro National Park (Mordor from Lord of the Rings), Abel Tasman National Park and a little trip out to the Franz Josef glacier. All have been spectacularly beautiful. I've also done a bit of cycling - hiring bikes at Rotorua to see the Blue and Green lakes just outside the town. Like I said, and as you can see, NZ is spectacularly beautful.
Summitting Mt Ngauruhoe (Tongariro Crossing) felt like quite an achievement, but unfortunately the weather had closed in for most of the day, and the spectacular views that it is famous for were completely blocked by mist and sleet, which was worsened by the bitter, cold wind. It was still pretty cool seeing the area where the Mordor scenes were filmed though.
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Wine tour and rugby in Napier:
I visited my mates from Nepal, Jason and Philippa Readpath, in Napier. What a great town. Pip took me on a cycling wine tour (hmm....poor combination?) on her day off. We mountain-biked through farm backroads and ended up on a Pacific beach. It was pretty weird seeing an old concrete World War 2 bunker on a quiet, desolate beach near Napier - built for the expected Japanese invasion back in 1942. You kind of forget just how far-reaching the 'world wars' were sometimes.
Pips and I then headed off to the vineyards, where we sampled some great white wines, and added knowledgable comments such as 'clearly an autumn harvest,' and 'yes, 2004 - a great year' to taster conversations. The Mission is a great little winery.
On the way home, Jason called to announce that a rugby match would be on later that night. Hometeam Hawke's Bay v Taranaki, the big, superior rivals!! And, big suprise... the hometeam won! It was a great game, and the local provincial rugby scene reminded me a lot of the domestic rugby atmosphere back home in South Africa.
Overall, I really liked Napier - its a great town.
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Windy Wellington
I met up with my old Wimbledon housemate Gen Talbot in Wellington, and she took me all over the place - Wellington, although often cold and chilly, seems to have quite a trendy arts scene. Its headed up by the most amazing museam - Te Papa. Personally, I think its far better than any museum I've seen in London. I was really impressed. The city is spread out and runs along a large bay. Fortunately, the weather cleared and we managed to walk up to a great viewpoint on my last day in Eastbourne, Wellington to get some photos of the bay.
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Snowboarding in Queenstown
Wow wow wow!! Well, what can I say - snowboarding is just awesome. I love the sport, and may well be addicted now. If you've done it before, you'll know how cool it is. I went to the Remarkables Ski Resort for two days. Queenstown is also unbelievably beautiful - the views from the hillside down to the town, and up to all the surrounding mountains are really incredible. I stayed at another YHA, along with the Irish and Aussie crowd from the Magic Bus. I'm kind of glad to be leaving tomorrow - this town sure can break the bank!
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Til next time when I'm in Fiji, adios!

Posted by Shlugger 19:42 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Australia

East coast roadtrip

all seasons in one day 15 °C
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You've got to hand it to the Aussies - they know how to market their country! Every little town, village, or suburb has some 'attraction.' A good example are the billboards being displayed outside the small town of Bowen,on the coast in central Queensland. The soon-to-be released film Australia was filmed here last year, and long before you head into the town, their are a few big billboards stating that since Nic (Kidman) and Hugh (Jackman) liked it there so much, you should too! I really enjoyed Australia. The country has a lot going for it. Evidence of its desirability to foreigners is obvious, because the cities are so cosmopolitan - the streets are full of multitudes of different people. It has a couple of downsides too - every traveller seems to complain about the cost of touring Australia. And the winter was incredibly cold. I was quite suprised at just how cold it got in Sydney - my second night there the city temperature dropped to -2C, and it 'snowed' a few kilometers away. Not quite what most people expect of Australia! The weather actually reminded me of London.
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My 5 week tour began in Sydney. I stayed with my uncle Jim - hadn't seen him in 11 years, and it was great catching up after so long. It was great hearing all his London and Sydney stories. I also appreciated having my own bedroom for a change, which, after months away from normalcy, means a lot to a backpacker!
Like all good Sydney tourists I headed straight to that little opera house and the Sydney Harbour bridge. Fortunately, the trip to Jim's place meant that I would have to pass right by both of these incredible structures everyday while in Sydney. For me, the bridge is more spectacular. Its truely magnificent. It's also called the Iron Lung, as it kept so many people employed during the depression of the 1930's.
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Uncle Jim - Freshwater, Sydney

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Sydney has a peculiar mix between sprawling, busy city and quiet suburbia. Its a nice city.

Roadtrip up the NSW coast and Brisbane

I decided the best way to see Australia was to hire a car and head west of Sydney via the Blue Mountains and then north to my mate Craig Rheeder in Brisbane, Queensland. The trip took 8 days. What a great way to see New South Wales.
On the way to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, I passed the Sydney Olympic Park. Its incredible. I'd hate to know how much nations spend on hosting this event. Basically, the equivalent of a medium-sized town is built to cater for it. The number of stadiums, grounds, stands, etc is ridiculous - they spread out for miles. Of course, there's plenty of extra's like big parks, fountains, a variety of sporting monuments, and all that, that must have been built to conform to the whole Olympic 'spirit' the IOC demands. It is beautiful though, and its still used today, as there were a number of conferences and sports events being held when I went there.
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Sydney Olympic Park

Katoomba is a great little town - the famous Three Sisters are there, and a number of beautiful ridges that have spectacular viewpoints and drop-offs into a large gorge below. It was even colder here than in Sydney. In fact, I think I wore boardshorts only once or twice in my five weeks in Australia - total opposite of what you would expect from Australia. I headed north with Camilla (my Camry Altise - got a free upgrade from the little Yaris I was meant to get...;) ). Along the way, there were plenty of great viewpoints and I kept stopping to take pics. The Australian bush is really beautiful. I stayed at YHA's (youth hostels) the whole way up, spending only a night at Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, and Byron Bay. they were all pretty similar I thought, and a little boring actually. Byron Bay has a good party scene, but for a change I didn't get involved. My favourite spot was the Hunter's Valley YHA - the hostel organised a full day wine tour of the local wineries, and of course, I thought this needed investigation. The wineries had no problem plying the group with their wines, and I responded by getting a few bottles for later on the roadtrip. Some great red's I must say! There was also a micro-brewery next door, which was investigated as well, and received a fine quality check on all of its lovely brews.
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Camilla - my Camry Altise

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Koala at a sanctuary in Port Macquarie

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Byron Bay lookout

I headed into Brisbane and my old pal Craig picked me up in town. Criag and I have been mates since we were 3 or something, having met via our folks when they joined the King William's Town Round Table organisation back in the early eighties. It was awesome catching up, and I spent the days exploring the city and the nights heading out for drinks or dinner with Craig and his mates. Its another cool city, the south bank area was my favourite. The city sits on a river and well-developed and its easy to get around. I'd say that Brisbane was my favourite city in Oz, although I can't comment on Melbourne and Adelaide. Craig and housemate Lawson took me to Nussa Heads on the Saturday that I was there - which is basically a hangout for retired billionaire's. I saw a real live Wallaby there (most are roadkill I think). We also saw a naked guy taking a little stroll down the beach, which was disturbing.
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Lawson, Craig and I at Nussaheads

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Prosepine and Richmond

I've been really keen to see my aunt, uncle and cousins in Prosepine, Queensland since I left for my travels back in February. I caught a flight from Brisbane and my aunt Joy and uncle David met me at the airport. Joy is my dad's sister. It was awesome staying with the family. It was like being home away from home - no noisy backpacker going through multiple plastic packets in his bag at 5am, no security lockers and no rusty doublebunk beds. My cousins Pam, Linda and Myles all came in from various parts of Queensland to see me over the course of my stay. I hadn't seen the girls for years so it was great catching up. The family is traditonally into cattle farming, but got into cane farming a few years back. I asked David why he went into something so different... "Another drought would have killed me!" he said. I thought he was exaggerating until Joy and David took me to their cattle ranch 500 km inland.... proper outback territory. Without a doubt, you have to be pretty tough to succeed out there. The land is flat, hard grassland, that stretches for miles and miles. The cattle are supported by boredrains - the boreholes having been drilled more than 300m into the earth to reach water levels. The water comes out hot and runs for miles down the boredrains to various yellow pastures. There are no other sources of water for most of the year and there are few trees to stand under to get under some shade. A short stint in the sun left me sunburnt, and it is the height of winter there right now! Farms are many kilometers apart - a visit for tea, or preferably a cold beer;), takes about 15-20 minutes to your nearest neighbour! It's tough out there!

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Cane flowers.

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The wattle tree - this is why Aussies wear green and yellow national sports gear.

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Iron man.

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Joy and David - on the way to Richmond.

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A highway 'train' - note the three trailers.

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A black-headed-python on Gracedale.

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The old sheep sheering shed.

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David shoeing a racehorse for his dad Bob on the way to Richmond.

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Kronosaurus tooth inspection. Richmond has the best kronosaurus fossil in the world. (That's a big sea monster from long, long ago, for those who are wondering.)

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A Kookaburra - this is the funniest bird you'll ever hear. Its ridiculous.

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Myles laying out some "pots" in the Whitsundays islands. Mud crabs are absolutely massive crabs - loads of good meat!

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Me on the famous Whitehaven beach. The smile soon changed to sheer horror though, as the wind had picked up heavily, and our voyage back to the mainland sufferred a few minor setbacks. I realised this when David mentioned it was perhaps time to put our lifejackets on halfway through the straight and at the bottom of a giant swell...

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David and son.

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Motor-cross at Prosepine.

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Mud crab. These things are seriously nasty crabs. They could easily chop off a finger or two. Not this one though, it ended up in the hot pot ;) mmmm

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Inside a cane harvester. Everyone should have one of these bad-boys - they are awesome!

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Yes, thats me in a small plane. Yes, those are harness straps over my shoulders. Yes, that is a man with a parachute attached to his back. Yes, I'm attached to him. No, I actually did jump. Yes, I was scared.

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The chicken of death

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Me and the cuzzies. We tricked Pam into rapping. Myles and I are her pimps.

The Townsville Amateurs

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David's dad, Bob, got us some tickets to the Townsville Amateurs. What a cool event!! There was actually a horse called Slugger there, so I placed a bet on it. It came last, or second last, I couldn't tell. Damn thing.

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Bob, Myles and I - dressed to the 9's.

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Linda at the races, dressed to the 9's as well.

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Myles pointing the way from Castle hill viewpoint in Townsville.

Back in Sydney, I had some time to see old friends and Jim once more before heading out to New Zealand for the next leg of the world tour. I managed to stay with my old primary school mate Ryan and his wife Kilmeny and once again do some big catch-ups. Life passes by so fast sometimes...
Ryan tried to tuck me in for bed the one night I was there, so I thought I should leave pronto as things were getting dodgy... Kilmeny - watch that husband of yours.
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I managed to see another Dutch traveller from the Philippines - this time Astrid, who I met in dodgy Manila. She's in Sydney working in dentistry.
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Then, last but not least, I saw Jim one last time before flying out. I hate goodbyes.

Australia has been great. It is an amazing country, and I can see why people want to live there - it has a lot going for it. Perhaps one day I'll return for a look-see...

But now, New Zealand, and this place is crazy!! What a fun place to travel to. Sabs Birch - sorry for the 6 week delay in getting this blog note out, I'll get the next one out much sooner than that!!!

See ya later, mate!
Sweet as...

Posted by Shlugger 00:46 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Cebu and Bohol - Philippines

Pictures for your viewing pleasure ;)

all seasons in one day 32 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

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The Manila skyline as my ferry returned from Palawan. The typhoon had passed from the day before and clear skies had begun to return.

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Malapascua took a big hit from the typhoon. I later heard that it was in fact a super-typhoon, which only occurs roughly every twenty years or so.

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Cock-fighting: its not for the faint-hearted, or vegetarians I would think...

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The dive crew had its fair share of characters, with The Captain at the helm, so to speak. These are his home made fins! He says they work better... but who am I to question that!?! Also occasionally on board was Tilly the Hound of Malapascua. Besides biting all visible toes she enjoys boatrides and terrorising children...

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Alona Beach - centre of the Panglao resort and diving scene. I hate to say I went to a "resort" place, but it was cheap for the off-season, and cheap is a backpackers middle name. Plus it was really nice.

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There is no shortage of Spanish history on Bohol island. I think it was the first area of the Philippines for them to colonise. In fact, most of these churches are from the early 1500's. The Philippines now seems to show far less Spanish history and more interest in American culture - such as basketball. Every little village has a few courts.

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Clinton and I made a stop at a roadside cafe at one of the small villages along our 2-day roadtrip. Lunch cost us less than a couple of dollars.
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The Chocolate Hills are beautiful. They're not the biggest or most impressive of landscapes, but its a great day out. Hiring bikes was the perfect way to get there.

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Note the caption above the windscreen. Once again - I prove here that all bus drivers in the Philippines and most of Asia for that matter, believe themselves to be invincible!

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Tarsiers - I think the producers of Star Wars, Gremlins, and Critters all got their inspiration from this little furball. Smallest primate in the world apparently, and very shy.

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Travel in the Philippines takes much patience...

Posted by Shlugger 17:01 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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